Groups backing Park51, the proposed Islamic cultural center and mosque near the World Trade Center site, have formed a coalition they're calling New York Neighbors for American Values.
The religious leaders, good government groups, civil libertarians and 9/11 family members in the coalition say they're concerned about religious intolerance that they say is plaguing the city and the nation.
The coalition held a news conference near City Hall on Wednesday to launch the group. Imam Abdul Baki of the Islamic Cultural Center of New York says opposition to Park51 just doesn't make sense. "Muslims have been praying in New York City for many, many years," he says. "We live here. We're part and parcel of the fabric of New York City. There's a mosque straight on Warren Street. There's a mosque straight on West Broadway."
Coalition member Donna O'Conner, who lost her pregnant daughter on 9/11, says opposition to the Park51 project is part of a frightening, nationwide trend. "We've already seen, across the country, anti-Muslim violence, rallies, protests against mosques," she says. "So this is not just a protest against the ground at Ground Zero."
Rabbi Arthur Waskow says he believes Muslims have a constitutional right to build a mosque wherever they please, and that anyone who follows the Bible has a biblical obligation to support them. "Why? Well, I could, of course, quote the Torah," Waskow says. "Love your neighbor as yourself. Don't do to your neighbors what you would find hateful if they did it to you."